Due to a bout of chronic laziness, I haven’t done a Best of The Year list in many years. That said, had I mustered the will to create a Best of 2015 Beach Slang’s debut album THE THINGS WE DO TO FIND PEOPLE WHO FEEL LIKE US wouldn’t have been at the top spot…which would have been a major error on my part. How did I miss the best album of 2015?
I hadn’t heard of Beach Slang until last week, but already they are one of my new favorite bands. Based out of Philadelphia, Beach Slang is yet another indie band that has a Beach/Surfer-themed name despite not playing surf music or having come from a sunny beach city*. I first noticed this trend a few years ago when Wavves and Surfer Blood first hit the scene. As I’ve grown as a music fan, I’ve tried to move away from pre-judging bands based on names and album artwork, to varying degress of success. Beach Slang nearly lost me because their album’s overall package screams “look at me, I’m indie.” The album’s super lengthy, Arctic Monkey’s-esque, title is a little too cute and the faded layered-exposure cover photo is a bit too twee. But that’s all superficial, the music is what matters, and Beach Slang’s music is awesome. The album is 10 songs long and clocks-in under 27 minutes in length. This is a highly potent, distilled album.
I liken Beach Slang’s sound to mid-period Replacements meets Ryan Adams. THE THINGS WE DO… has a very late ‘80s, washed-out, sound that I normally don’t care for but with this band and these songs the aesthetic totally works. Rather than coming across as an affectation, the production compliments the rough-and-tumble punk quality of Beach Slang’s music. The guitars screech and wail in a thick cloud that hangs over the majority of the record. Lead singer James Alex’s voice is absolutely perfect with its ragged timber and earnestness. THE THINGS WE DO… tackles some very serious material and without a sincere vocalist to anchor everything down Beach Slang might have drifted into cliché. But when he Alex spits out the lyrics, the listener absolutely believes that he’s this tough punk kid and we are privy to his inner most thoughts. Musically Beach Slang are a well-oiled machine, and I’ll bet these guys are pretty damn incredible live. I hope I get to find out. The guitars stand out, but the drums are also very memorable, too (see the end of “Dirty Lights”). I wanted to establish in this review that the production and guitars are top notch on this record before tackling the lyrics to the songs on this record.
The lyrics. A surface-level, initial listen of THE THINGS WE DO… piqued my interest in this band, but it wasn’t until I put the headphones on and started listening that this record truly impressed me. Lyrically, Beach Slang’s songs are some of the best rock poetry I’ve heard in the past 10 years. There are lines in these songs that should be framed and hung on a fucking wall. That’s how good they are. Every time I hear this record I pick up on a new lyric that blows me away. That’s part of the reason it’s taken me so long to review this album—just as soon as I think I’ve discovered everything cool about THE THINGS WE DO… something else pops out of nowhere and surprises me.
Probably the one line that every review of this album must include is from “Ride the Wild Haze” wherein Alex sings “I feel most alive when I’m listening to every record that hits harder than the pain.” I’ve noticed that this is the song lyric that all the music critics are picking up on, and with good reason. It’s a damn good line and it’s essentially the central thesis of THE THINGS WE DO… Life is fucked up and sometimes it’s only art that can get us through the really hard times. The sentiment is continued in “Too Late To Die Young” wherein Alex sings: “The punks are wired and there records feel tough. It’s loud and wild, but I swear it feels soft. Yeah, it’s always been enough.” On another (really kick ass) track “I Break Guitars”, Alex asks, “If rock and roll is dangerous, how come I feel so safe in it?” For Beach Slang, rock music isn’t a phase or a way to pick up chicks; it’s a way of life. It’s also the one thing that consistently keeps them hanging on in an otherwise hard life.
Look, I get that none of this is very original. There have been punks singing about how they feel like outcasts and rock music is the only thing keeping them sane since the dawn of rock ‘n roll. This stuff shouldn’t impress me, but it does because while the sentiment may not be new, Beach Slang expresses it so eloquently. Also, don’t get me wrong, there is more going on in the brief running time of THE THINGS WE DO… than just the standard life’s hard and we are getting by through punk motif. There are songs on that really pack an emotional punch that have nothing to do with art saving one’s soul, like “Porno Love.” The song has really simple lyrics, but man do work: “California’s full of porno love, lunatics and liars and kids like us. We took a lot of time but not enough drugs. It’s heaven, It’s heaven.”
It’s rare for me to love an album from top-to-bottom these days, but I love THE THINGS WE DO TO FIND PEOPLE WHO FEEL LIKE US**. Every single track has had a turn as my favorite track. I knew that there was something special about this album when I gave it a first listen and I fell in love with “Hard Luck Kid.” I was only half-listening, browsing the Internet or something and this song kicked my ass. I remember thinking wow, there might be something to this band after all. I glanced at my Spotify playlist and saw that the album was practically over. In my experience, bands don’t usually put their best stuff at the tail end of their albums. In fact, most modern records are very top-heavy with all of the best stuff packed in at the beginning. The fact that I fell hard for a song near the very end forced me to go back and re-listen to what I’d missed. “Hard Luck Kid” very much reminds me of The Replacements “Bastards of the Young.” And as far as I’m concerned, I can’t think of a higher compliment for any band, but especially for a band like Beach Slang.
Downsides to this album? I’m a fan of quick and dirty rock, but the short running time is a bit of a bummer. I’ve gone running with this album and I’m always forced to re-start it at least once due to how short it is. But that’s also a pretty big compliment: as soon as THE THINGS WE DO… is over I’m 100% ready to jump back to the beginning to listen again. The opening track “Throwaways” is also a bit of a throwaway, in that it’s really not the best track on the album. If anyone reading this finds themselves intrigued and wants to listen to this amazing album, please stick it out to the very end.
There is a smattering of songs from an EP on Soundcloud that I’ve heard from Beach Slang and they measure up to the quality found on their debut, which is a really good sign. I selfishly hope that they are cooking up their next record (for immediate release, naturally). Right now the band is touring Europe, which is rad and all…but they need to play a city near me soon. THE THINGS WE DO TO FIND PEOPLE WHO FEEL LIKE US is hands-down the best album I’ve heard from 2015. It’s a classic album I can totally see myself revisiting in the years to come.
*Okay, so perhaps that’s not entirely true. The second track “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas” does have a dreamy surf rock-like guitar vibe drifting through most of the track.
**And when I do find myself liking an album from top-to-bottom, it’s usually an older album that I missed. Everybody knows that the album is a dead art form, so I’m probably wasting everyone’s time pointing all of this out. Sorry.